In this edition of “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly,” we will be taking a look at the special teams unit for each team in the Mountain West. There is some great returning talent, including the Special Teams Player of the Year. Let’s take a peek at what each team has to offer.
Field goal kicking was a struggle last season, but the Rams were solid in nearly every other aspect of special teams. The Rams have a few capable returners, and punter Ryan Stonehouse is one of the best in the nation.
The Cowboys may not have taken one to the house, but they had the best kickoff return unit in the Mountain West last season and should be solid again this fall. They were also among the best in punt returns. Kicking was a bit of an adventure last year, but I suspect the Cowboys will improve that area.
Brandon Talton brought some early season attention to the Wolf Pack last year for his big game winning kick over Purdue. With Talton back, the Nevada kicking game should be among the best in the conference. Nevada was also middle of the road for kickoff and punt returns. But they have some speedy athletes that should make a big impact on special teams.
San Diego State
The Aztecs have quite a bit of attrition on special teams, but it seems like they are always solid in this department. San Diego State is not afraid to put some of their most important players on special teams, and it has shown in their production in recent seasons. There may not be a lot of star power, but one thing is certain, the Aztecs will be consistent on special teams.
I contemplated putting the Aggies in the “Good” category. They should have a really good return game, but they struggled with punting. And field position will be important to a squad that does not have a lot of offensive production returning. Plus, they lost a phenomenal kicker in Dominik Eberle.
It feels a little wrong to put a team that is returning the conference Special Teams Player of the Year (Avery Williams) in the “Bad” category. The Broncos will have a strong return unit with Avery Williams and Khalil Shakir. But punting was a roller coaster, and there is no clear answer in that department. As far as the kicker goes, it looks like the Broncos will once again turn to a grad transfer. There are enough unanswered questions to keep them from landing in the “Good” category.
Great kicking and solid punting, but the return unit is a major question mark. The Falcons ranked dead last in both punt and kickoff returns in 2019, and there is no clear answer for how they can improve in that area. Maybe Remsberg can return kicks?
It appears that the Bulldogs will be solid in the punting game, where they should have a few capable returners. But they made only 12 of 21 field goal attempts in 2019 and were awful on kickoff returns. This team is awful all around, but they have a way to go to be considered a “Good” special teams unit.
The Lobos were really good at punting last year, but maybe that is because they did a lot of it. Nearly every other special teams category was unimpressive to say the least. It is hard to see that improving much this season. They missed seven PATs and four field goals. I think some of that San Diego State culture will rub off on them with recent coaching hires, but it will take time.
San Jose State
The Spartans weren’t really great in any special teams category last year, but they weren’t really awful either. San Jose State is losing quite a bit of talent off a team that many believed overachieved. They are losing some key special teams contributors and will likely struggle in 2020.
For the most part, I could copy and paste what I wrote for San Jose State. But Hawaii was really bad kicking the ball last year, and that is an area that they will likely emphasize this year. The Rainbow Warriors missed seven field goals in only seventeen attempts. I think this squad will show some growth in special teams this season, but they have a way to go.
The Rebels ranked in the bottom half of nearly every special teams statistic in 2019. They were awful in returns and averaged on 35 yards per punt. The good news for UNLV fans is that it can’t be nearly that bad in 2020, right?
That’s it for this edition of “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly.” With the preview wrapping up, I want to cover some of the best games in Mountain West history. Leave your suggestions in the comments below.